High Point State Park: Where Leaf-Peeping Reaches New Heights

Don't miss this stunning Sussex County gem.

NJM correspondent Lindsay Berra explores the trail system at High Point State Park. Photos by John Bessler

If you’re going to be a leaf-peeper, you may as well peep the best possible view. In New Jersey, that would be the High Point Monument, which, at 1,803 feet above sea level, is the state’s loftiest point.

The 220-foot obelisk was built between 1929 and 1930 of quartzite quarried from High Point State Park grounds. From the monument, three states are visible. Gaze over Lake Marcia, directly below the monument, or look to the northwest, over forests and farmland, toward the Delaware River and beyond to Pennsylvania.

First, of course, you must reach the monument. The faint of heart and those strapped for time can take the park’s Scenic Drive directly to the parking area at the monument. The more intrepid visitor has several hiking options. The staff at the visitor’s center off Route 23 can provide a map with the best routes.

The green-and-red blazed Monument Loop from the park’s interpretive-center lot or the Monument lot itself is a 3.5-mile circuit that extends along mountain ridges nearly to the New York border. Walk up and down rolling hills, through tall oaks and pitch pines with an undergrowth of ferns and huckleberries. Take a moment to admire the several sets of stone steps built into the trail by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s—and a few moments more to enjoy the many lookout points.

Photos by John Bessler

Forming a lollipop inside the Monument Loop, the purple-blazed Cedar Swamp Trail winds through the world’s highest-altitude (1,500 feet) Atlantic white-cedar bog. “I love this trail at all times of the year,” says park superintendent Rebecca Fitzgerald. “It is flat and only about 2 miles, so it’s great when you don’t have a lot of time. The green of the cedar trees is beautiful against the fall colors.”

For a more challenging hike, begin at the Appalachian Trail (AT) lot on Route 23 just south of the visitor’s center and take a slightly steeper, 3.8-mile round-trip hike to the monument and back. Be sure to stop at the elevated observation deck at the 1.5-mile mark along the white-blazed AT to take in 360-degree views of the Delaware Water Gap to the south, the Pocono Mountains to the west and the Catskills to the north. (Motorists on the Scenic Drive can also access the observation deck via a short climb from the road.)

Continuing on the AT, you emerge from the woods into the wide-open space at the top of High Point Mountain. This stretch can be brutally windy in the fall; bring layers and hold on to your hat. Once you’ve reached the monument, the hollow obelisk’s 220 narrow steps are accessible to climb on fall weekends through Columbus Day. At the top, three windows offer sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

Photos by John Bessler

Frank and Lynn Gerndt of Sparta regularly bring Cyrus, their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, to High Point to hike. They like the solitude afforded by weekday visits. “Our hobby is hiking, and it’s beautiful to be out here, especially when the leaves are changing,” Frank says. “A lot of times, we don’t even run into any other people.”

To fuel up for your hike or to reward yourself afterward, there are two excellent options south of the park. The overstuffed sandwiches at Clove Brook Market (800 Route 23) will fill your belly, especially the signature Clove Brook: pastrami and melted Swiss with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Or sample more than a half-dozen flavors of scones, along with a variety of other baked goods.

The Elias Cole (1176 Route 23)—a log cabin with hand-carved wooden booths— has been in the Lain family since 1965. The meatloaf is a local favorite, fresh bread is baked daily on-site, and their homemade pies have a cult following. Seasonal favorites like pumpkin and apple do not disappoint, while lemon meringue and coconut cream are topped with several inches of airily delicious meringue.

“It’s too hard to decide,” says customer Peter Elias of Clifton. “I had to order two different slices.”

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